It's 1985 but not as we know it, following the runaway success of his debut novel, The Eyre Affair last year, Jasper Fforde once again invites us into the bizarre world of literary detective Thursday Next who lives in a decidedly different 1985
In Fforde's version, the Crimean War has just ended (the Russians are demanding Tunbridge Wells as part of their war reparations), genetically synthesized dodos and an array of literary characters including Dickens' Miss Havisham, Kafka's Josef K and Austen's Marrainne Dashwood mingle freely with his own creations.
And if that all seems fairly normal, George Formby is non-executive president for Britain, while the country's foremost literary prize is sponsored by Armitage Shanks.
Ealing comedy meets Monty Python as the redoutable Ms Next (not content with defeating arch-villain Acheron Hades, ending the Crimean War and providing an improved ending for Bronte's magnum opus in The Eyre Affair) Once again takes on the Orwellian might of the Goliath Corporation - a dastardly corporate oligarchy that controls everything from the media and arms sales to the price of cheese.
In a surreal adventure which circumvents time, history and reality, and which involves missing Shakespeare plays, wooly mammoth migrations and a critical reassessment of Beatrix Potter's The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, Fforde displays a gift for Satire and off-the-wall humour, coupled with a rich, tangential imagination.
The targets of his satire are many and varied from Shakespearean comedy and organised religion, to police procedures and international politics. He even pokes fun at the novel itself, as he combines elements of the detective thriller, science fiction and romantic writing and mercilessly lampoons each in turn. Gratifyingly, he does so in an infectiously mischevious style that is endearing, and makes it quite clear that we should never take the book too seriously.
Fforde's brand of humour is one of the key aspects of this novel (there is a joke of some kind on virtually every page) and ranges from the vacuously adolescent to flashes of ingeniuos wordplay and deadpan delivery that bring to mind the late Peter Cook at his brilliant best.
The author's background is in the film industry and this is translated directly into his fiction in a variety of ways. He uses cinematic techniques such as flashbacks, subplots and multiple and false endings to great effect, alaongside a wealth of highly visual gags and episodes such as car chases that are more traditionally found in cinema. The plotting is also extremely tight whcih might be interperetted as further evidence of his cinematic pedigree.
With the puublication of The Eyre Affair, Fforde has already found himself with something of a Thursday Next cult on his hands, and this, the second title in a proposed series of four books, should only add fuel to the fire.